Dec 22, 2014

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Imi Knoebel retrospective at Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg. I want to go.

Please enjoy the time and space.

 

              

Dec 19, 2014

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Shiro Kuramata & Hiroshi Sugimoto: Works from the Absent Past at Wright. I guess sometimes… occasionally, I wish I had a lot of money?

Please enjoy the time and space.

              

Dec 19, 2014

              

Dec 17, 2014

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Wish I could see the Noam Rappaport show up at James Fuentes in NYC IRL. It’s only up for a few more days so chop chop if you can go and haven’t. It opened on my birthday and in hindsight I probably shoulda taken a trip to celebrate.

Noam was nice enough to share some pics and I like them all! The photos are ©Heather Rasmussen.

This is the sort of thing that makes me miss blogging. I see work that causes me to to email someone and then the next thing you know…

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Here’s an excerpt from the gallery’s press release if you’re in the mood for something more formal.

In the exhibition, Rappaport continues his focus on wall-based works that operate between painting, sculpture and drawing. Using a palette drawn from the constantly regenerating constructed landscape of Southern California, his application of color varies in saturation and ranges from subtle landscape influenced tones, to high-pitched hues of popular graphics. The predominant format of the works explores two or more merged rectangles. In the larger shaped canvases, the meeting of these two geometric forms – perhaps each suggesting figures, ideas or elements of landscape – create an opportunity for the artist to interpret the space where these forms overlap. Rappaport uses this framework to investigate the ‘in-between’ areas of his compositions, occupying them with cut-outs, raised graphic lines, nebulous rings, marks in relief, hard-edged rectangles and collected strokes varying from incidental to semi-purposeful. Painted or sculpted forms, placed at the meeting points of the rectangles, embody the idea of potential in a point of encounter.

Please enjoy the time and space.

              

Aug 21, 2014

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We are humbled and honored to announce the Walker Art Center’s acquisition of RO/LU’s piece “New, New Orleans, LA (after Alec Soth)” which was created for our Open Field Residency. It’s our first time in a museum collection and we’re deeply grateful to everyone involved… Alec Soth, Olga Viso, Sarah Schultz, Eric Crosby, Ashley Duffalo… and everyone who participated with the piece too.
In 2012 RO/LU was the Open Field Artist-In-Residence at the Walker. For a few weeks we did our best to take over the whole museum with five different but related projects: Making As Thinking, Attention As Place, Doing As Seeing, Participation As Performance and Learning As Sculpture.
The Attention As Place element attempted, in part, to explore the evolution of our relationships because of the internet, Instagram and the way we increasingly depend on photography to tell us stories. It involved contributions from friends of ours, who we mostly communicate with digitally, as well as a few pieces by us.
Originally, we’d wanted to create a life size version of “New Orleans, LA” (2002) an Alec Soth photograph in the Walker’s Permanent Collection. We wondered about creating a work you could enter rather than just remaking the photograph. We didn’t have the time or resources so we settled for making a diorama of the photo. RO/LU’s Sammie Warren experimented with it in many different ways and we finally arrived at a scene that, when viewed by a camera, looks extremely similar to the original photo.
We asked the Walker to display the original photograph, with an open expanse of wall next to it, so participants could hang their version next to his. With the help of our friend Cameron Wittig, we set up the diorama with a laptop, a printer, a camera and a copy of the Walker’s collection catalog Bits and Pieces, open to the entry about New Orleans, LA.
We wanted the piece to go a bit like this: a participant would look into the diorama with their eye, then an attendant would ask if they were familiar with Soth or his photo, they’d be invited to snap a pic, the image would be printed and then an attendant would walk them about 200 ft away upstairs and around a corner to the wall where they’d hang their image. During the walk, the attendant would ask them about the experience they’d just had and suggest they might think about Instagram, Facebook, etc differently.
We were overjoyed with the amount of exchange the piece created. There were a few weird ones, like the guy who swore we were playing a trick on him: that the photo he took wasn’t the one that was printed. And there were a few people who took selfies instead of taking a pic of the diorama scene…which was actually really interesting in a way. We’re excited about the “becoming” that’s inherent to this piece. That the participant photo collection will get bigger each time it’s displayed. I could go on and on about the layers of meaning and ideas that emerged through the work and interaction.
Alec was totally supportive and, maybe this shouldn’t be surprising but, of all the participants, his photo of the diorama looked the most like the original.
Please enjoy the time and space.

              

Jul 16, 2014

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I first saw the picture of Cy Twombly – in a chair, loafers, wool sox, cape, a single finger draped across his mouth – when he died a few years ago. It was one of those pictures that just felt like it was saturated with energy. I was obsessed for awhile. Was it the room? Was it the clothes? His aura? I would see it from time to time on various tumblr’s out there. The a couple years ago I became more interested in Twombly’s work, especially his sculpture, when I was at Rauschenberg’s for the residency. There were many, many books there.

I didn’t know the story about the photos which is told here in a back issue of 032c. Originally published in Vogue in 1966. Such a fascinating story and so interesting to think about how they look now. Of course, I’ll have to track down the 2003 issue of Nest magazine to absorb their resurfacing.

And here’s Roland Barthes, The Wisdom of Art:

Whatever the metamorphoses of painting, whatever the support and the frame, we are always faced with the same question: what is happening, there? Whether we deal with canvas, paper or wall, we deal with a stage where something is happening (and if, in some forms of art, the artists deliberately intends that nothing should happen, even this is an event, an adventure). So that we must take a painting (let us keep this convenient name, even if it is an old one) as a kind of traditional stage: the curtain rises, we look, we wait, we receive, we understand; and once the scene is finished and the painting removed, we remember: we are no longer what we were: as in ancient drama, we have been iniciated. What I should like to do is consider Twombly in his relation to what constitutes an Event.

What happens on the stage Twombly offers us (whether it is canvas or paper) is something which partakes of several kinds of event, which the Greeks knew very well how to distinguish in their vocabulary: what happens is a fact (pragma), a coincidence (tych?, an outcome (telos), a surprise (apodeston) and an action (drama).

I

Before everything else, there happen… some pencil strokes, oils, paper, canvas. The instrument of painting is not an instrument. It is a fact. Twombly imposes his materials on us not as something which is going to serve some purpose, but as absolute matter, manifested in its glory (theological vocabulary tells us that the glory of God is the manifestation of his Being). The materials are the materia prima, as for the Alchemists. The materia prima is what exists prior to the division operated by meaning: an enormous paradox since nothing, in the human order, comes to man unless it is immediately accompanied by a meaning, the meaning which other men have given it, and so on, in an infinite regress. The demiurgic power of the painter is in this, that he makes the materials exist as matter; even if some meaning comes out of the painting, pencil and color remain as “things”, at stubborn substances whose obstinacy in “being there” nothing (no subsequent meaning) can destroy.

Twombly’s art consist in making us see things: not those which he represents (this is another problem), but those which he manipulates: a few pencil strokes, this squared paper, this touch of pink, this brown smudge. This is an art with a secret, which is in general not that of spreading the substance (charcoal, ink, oils) but of letting its trail behind. One might think that in order to express the character of pencil, one has to press it against the paper, to reinforce its appearance, to make it thick, intensely black.

Twombly thinks the opposite: it is in holding check the pressure of matter, it letting is alight almost nonchalantly on the paper so that its grain is a little dispersed, that matter will show its essence and make us certain of its correct name: this is pencil. If we wanted to philosophize a little, we would say that the essence of things is not in their weight but in their lightness; and we would thereby perhaps confirm one of Nietzsche’s statements: “What is good is light”: and indeed, nothing is less Wagnerian than Twombly.

What is in question, therefore, is a means of making in all circumstances (in any kind of work), matter appear as a fact (pragma). In order to do this, Twombly has, not devices (and even if he had, in art devices have their nobility), but at least habits. Let us not ask whether other painters have had these habits too: in any case, it is their combination, their arrangement, their distribution, which constitute the original art of Twombly. Words too belong to everybody; but sentences belong to writers: Twombly’s “sentences” are inimitable.

Here are, then, the gestures through which Twombly enunciates (should we say: spells?) the matter in the trace: I) Scratching. Twombly scratches the canvas by scrawling lines on it (Free Wheeler; Criticism; Olympia). This is a gesture of moving to and fro, sometimes obsessively, as if the artist kept tampering with the lines he has drawn, like someone, who is bored during a trade-union meeting and blackens with apparently meaningless strokes a corner of the sheet of paper in front of him. 2) Smudging (Commodus II). This has nothing to do with tachisme; Twombly guides his smudges, drags them along as if he used his fingers; his body is therefore right there, contiguous with the canvas, not through a projection but, so to speak, through a touch which always remains light: the color is never crushed (see for instance Bay of Naples). So perhaps we should speak of maculas rather than “smudges”; for a macula is not any stain; it is (as etymology tells us) a stain on the skin, but also the mesh of a net, inasmuch as it reminds one of the spots of some animals: Twombly’s maculae make us think of a net. 3) Smearing. This is the name I give to the marks in paint or pencil, often even in a material which cannot be specified, with which Twombly seems to cover other strokes, as if he wanted to erase the latter without really wanting it, since these strokes remain faintly visible under the layer which covers them. This is a subtle dialectic: the artist pretends to have “bungled” a part of his canvas and to erase it. But he again bungles the rubbing out and these two failures superimposed on each other produce a kind of palimpset: they give the canvas the depth of a sky in which light clouds pass in front of each other without blotting each other out (View; School of Athens).

As we can see, these gestures, which aim to establish matter as fact, are all associated with making someting dirty. Here is a paradox: a fact is more purely defined if it is not clean. Take a common object: it is not its new and virgin state which best accounts for its essence; it is rather a state in which it is deformed, a little worn, a little dirtied, a little forlorn: the truth of things is best read in refuse. It is in a smear that we find the truth of redness; it is in a wobbly line that we find the truth of pencil. Ideas (in the Platonic sense of the word) are not metallic and shiny Figures, in conceptual corsets, but rather faint shaky stains, on a vague background.

So much for the pictorial element (via di porre). But there are other events in Twombly’s work: written events, names. They too are facts: they stand on the stage, without sets or props: Virgil (nothing but the Name), Orpheus. But this nominalist glory too is impure: the strokes are a little childish, irregular, clumsy. This is quite different from the typography in conceptual art: the hand which has drawn them confers on all these names the lack of skill of someone who its trying to write; and from this, once again, the truth of the Name appears all the better. Doesn’t the schoolboy learn the essence of a table by copying its name laboriously? By writing Virgil on his canvas, it is as if Twombly was condensing in his hand the very immensity of Virgil’s world, all the references of which his name is the receptacle. This is why Twombly’s titles do not lead to analogy. If a canvas is called The Italians, do not seek the Italians anywhere, except, precisely, in their name. Twombly knows that the Name has an absolute (and sufficient) power of evocation: to write The Italians is to see all the Italians. Names are like those jars we read about in I don’t know which tale of the Arabian Nights: genii are caught in them. If you open or break the jar, the genie comes out, rises, expands like smoke and fills up the air: break the title, and the whole canvas escapes.

The purity of this mechanism can also be observed in dedications. There are a few in Twombly: To Val雛y, To Tatlin. Once more, there is nothing more here than the graphic act of dedicating. “To dedicate” is one of those verbs which linguists, following Austin, have called “performatives” because their meaning merges with the very act of enouncing them: “I dedicate” has no other meaning than the actual gesture by which I present what I have done (my work) to someone I love or admire. This is exactly what Twombly does: since it bears only the inscription of the dedication, the canvas, so to speak, disappears, and only the act of giving remains – and this modicum of writing necessary to express it. These canvases are at the boundaries of painting not because they include no painting at all (other painters have explored this limit) but because the very idea of a work is destroyed – but not the relation of the painter to someone he loves.

II

Tych? in Greek, is an event inasmuch as it occurs by chance. Twombly’s canvases always seem to include a certain force coming from chance. Never mind if, in fact, the work is the result of very precise calculation for what counts is the chance effect, or, to put it with more subtlety (for Twombly’s art is not aleatory): the inspiration effect, since inspiration is this creative force which is like the felicity of chance. Two movements and a certain state account for this effect.

The movements are: first, the impression of “jet?, of something having been thrown: the materials seem to have been thrown across the canvas, and to throw is an act in which are enshrined at the same time an initial decision and a final indetermination: when I throw something, I know what I am doing, but I don’t know what I am producting. Twombly’s way of throwing is elegant, supple, “long”, as we say in those games where a ball has to be thrown. Second (and this aspect is like consequence of the first), an appearance of dispersion. On a canvas (or paper) by Twombly, the elements are separated from each other by space, a lot of space. In this, they have some affinity with Oriental painting, to which Twombly is otherwise related by his frequent recourse to a mixture of writing and painting. Even when the accidents – the events – are strongly indicated (Bay of Naples), Twombly’s paintings preserve an absolute spaciousness. And this spaciousness is not only a plastic value; it is like a subtle energy which allows one to breathe better. The canvas produces in me what the philosopher Bachelard called an “ascensional” imagination: I float in the sky, I breath in the air (School of Fontainebleau). The state which is linked to these two movements (the “jet? and the dispersion), and which is found in all of Twombly’s paintings, is the Rare. “Rarus” in Latin means: that which has gaps or interstices, sparse, porous, scattered, and this is indeed what space is like in Twombly (see especially Untitled, 1959).

How can these two ideas, that of empty space and that of chance (tych? be related? Val雛y (to whom one of Twombly’s drawings is dedicated) can help us to understand it. In a lecture at the Coll阦e de France (5 May 1944), Val雛y examines the two cases in which an artist can find himself: either his work follows a predetermined plan, or he fills in an imaginary rectangle. Twombly fills his rectangle according to the principle of the Rare, that is, of spacing out. This notion is crucial in Japanese aesthetics, which does not know the Kantian categories of space and time, but only the more subtle one of interval (in Japanese: Ma). The Japanese Ma, basically, is the Latin Rarus, and it is Twombly’s art. The Rare Rectangle thus refers us to two civilizations: on the one hand, to the “void” of Eastern art, which is simply punctuated, here and there, with some calligraphy; and on the other, to a Mediterranean space which is that of Twombly. Curiously, Val雛y (again) has well expressed this rare space, not by relating it to the sky or the sea (of which one would have thought at first) but to the old southern houses: “These vast rooms of the Midi, very good for meditation, with their tall furniture looking lost. A great void locked in – where time doesn’t count. The mind wants to populate all this.” Basically, Twombly’s paintings are big Mediterranean rooms, hot and luminous, with their elements looking lost (rari) and which the mind wants to populate.

Unbreakable unity of the impression (of the “message”) and the complexity of its causes or elements. The generality is not mysterious, that is, attributed to the power of the artist, but it is nevertheless irreducible. It is in a way another logic, a kind of challenge, on the part of the poet (and the painter) to the Aristotelian rules of the structure.

Although many things separate Twombly from French Symbolism (their art, their time, their nationality), they have something in common: a certain form of culture. This culture is classical: not only does Twombly directly allude to mythological facts which have been transmitted by Greek or Latin literature, but also the “authors” (auctores mean: the guarantors) whom he introduces into his painting are either humanist poets (Val雛y, Keats) or painters nurtured on antiquity (Poussin, Rafael). A single chain constantly evoked, leads from the Greek gods to the modern artist, a chain whose links are Ovid and Poussin. A kind of golden triangle unites the ancients, the poets and the painter. It is significant that one of Twombly’s paintings is dedicated to Val雛y, and perhaps even more – because this coincidence probably occurred unbeknownst to Twombly – that a picture by this painter and a poem by this writer bear the same name: Birth of Venus. And these two works have the same “effect”: that of arising from the sea. This convergence, which is here exemplary, perhaps gives us the key to the “Twombly effect”. It seems to me that this effect, which is constant in all of Twombly’s paintings, even those which were painted prior to his settling in Italy (as Val雛y also said, it sometimes happens that the future is the cause of the past), is the very general effect which can be released, in all its possible dimensions, by the word “Mediterranean.” The Mediterranean is an enormous complex of memories and sensations: certain languages (Greek and Latin) which are present in Twombly’s titles, a historical, mythological, poetic culture, this whole life of forms, colors and light which occurs at the frontier of the terrestrial landscape and the plains of the sea. The inimitable art of Twombly consists in having imposed the Mediterranean effect while starting from materials (straches, smudges, smears, little color, no academic forms) which have no analogy with the great Mediterranean radiance.

I know the island of Procida, in the Bay of Naples, where Twombly has lived. I have spent a few days in the ancient house where Graziella, Lamartine’s heroine, spent her days. There, calmly united, are the light, the sky, the earth, the accent of a rock, an arch. It is Virgil and it is a Twombly paintings: there is none, in fact, where we don’t find this void of the sky, of water, and those very light marks indicating the earth (a boat, a promontory) which float in them (apparent rari nantes): the blue of the sky, the gray of the sea, the pink of sunrise.

III

Mars and the Artist is an apparently symbolical composition: at the top, Mars, that is to say a battle of lines and reds, at the bottom, the Artist, that is, a flower and his name. The paintings functions like a pictograph, where figurative and graphic elements are combined. This system is very clear, and although it is quite exceptional in Twombly’s work, its very clarity refers us to the joint problems of figuration and signification.

Although abstract painting (which bears an inaccurate name, as we know) has been in the making for a long time (since the later C雤anne, according to some people), each new artist endlessly debates the question again: in art, linguistic problems are never really setlled, and language always turns back to reflect on itself. It is therefore never naive (in spite of the intimidation of culture, and above all of specialist culture) to ask oneself before a painting what it represents. Meaning sticks to man: even when he wants to create something against meaning or outside it, he ends up producing the very meaning of nonsense or non-meaning. It is all the more legitimate to tackle again and again the question of meaning, that it is precisely this question which prevents the universality of painting. If so many people (because of cultural differences) have the impression of “not understanding” a painting, it is because they want meaning and this painting (or so they think) does not give them any.

Twombly squarely tackles the problem, if only in this, that most of his paintings bear titles. By the very fact that they have a title, they proffer the bait of a meaning to mankind, which is thirsting for one. For in classical painting the caption of a picture (this thin line of words which runs at the bottom of the work and on which the visitors of a museum first hurl themselves) clearly expressed what the picture represented; analogy in the picture was reduplicated by analogy in the title: the signification was supposed to be exhaustive and the figuration exhausted. Now it is not possible, when one sees a painting by Twombly bearing a title, not to have the embryonic reflex of looking for analogy. The Italians? Sahara? Where are the Italians? Where is the Sahara? Let’s look for them. Of course, we find nothing. Or at least – and here begins Twombly’s art – what we find – namely the painting itself, the Event, in its splendor and enigmatic quality – is ambiguous: nothing “represents” the Italians, the Sahara, there is no analogical figure of these referents; and yet, we vaguely feel, there is nothing, in these paintings, which contradicts a certain natural idea of the Sahara, the Italians. In other words, the spectator has an intimation of another logic (his way of looking is beginning to operate transformations): although it is very obscure, the painting has a proper solution, what happens in it conforms to a telos, a certain end.

This end is not found immediately. At first stage, the title so to speak bars the access to the painting because by its precision, its intelligibility, its classicism (nothing strange or surrealist about it), it carries us on the analogical road, which very quickly turns out to be blocked. Twombly’s titles have the function of a maze having followed the idea which they suggest, we have to retrace our steps and start in another direction. Something remains, however, their ghosts which pervade the painting. They constitute the negative moment which is found in all initiations. This is art according to a rare formula, at once very intellectual and very sensitive, which constantly confronts negativity in the manner of those schools of mysticism called “apophatic” (negative) because they teach one to examine all that which is not-so as to perceive, in this absence, a faint light, flickering but also radiant bec/ause it does not lie.

What Twombly’s paintings produce (their telos) is very simple: it is an “effect”. This word must here be understood in the strictly technical sense which it had in the French literary schools of the late nineteenth century, from the Parnasse to Symbolism. An “effect” is a general impression suggested by the poem, an impression which is sensuous, and most often visual. This is well known. But what is specific to the effect is that its general character cannot really be decomposed; it cannot be reduced to a sum of localized details. Th雘phile Gautier wrote a poem, “Symphonie en blanc majeur”, all the lines of which contribute, in a way which is at once insistent and diffuse, to establishing a color, white, which imprints itself on us independently of the objects which are its supports. In the same way Paul Val雛y, during his Symbolist period, wrote two sonnets, both entitled “F腚ric,” the effect of which is a certain color. But as sensibility had become refined between the Parnasian and the Symbolist periods (under the influence of painters, in fact) we cannot name it as we did in the case of Gautier’s white. It probably consists mostly of a silvery tone, but this hue is caught in other sensations which diversify and reinforce it: luminosity, transparence, lightness, sudden sharpness, coldness; moonlight pallor, silken feathers, diamond brightness, mother-of-pearl iridescence. An effect is therefore not a rhetorical trick: it is a veritable category of sensations, which is defined by this paradox: the unbreakable unity of the impression (of the “message”) and the complexity of its causes or elements. The generality is not mysterious, that is, attributed to the power of the artist, but it is nevertheless irreducible. It is in a way another logic, a kind of challenge, on the part of the poet (and the painter) to the Aristotelian rules of the structure.

Although many things separate Twombly from French Symbolism (their art, their time, their nationality), they have something in common: a certain form of culture. This culture is classical: not only does Twombly directly allude to mythological facts which have been transmitted by Greek or Latin literature, but also the “authors” (auctores mean: the guarantors) whom he introduces into his painting are either humanist poets (Val雛y, Keats) or painters nurtured on antiquity (Poussin, Rafael). A single chain constantly evoked, leads from the Greek gods to the modern artist, a chain whose links are Ovid and Poussin. A kind of golden triangle unites the ancients, the poets and the painter. It is significant that one of Twombly’s paintings is dedicated to Val雛y, and perhaps even more – because this coincidence probably occurred unbeknownst to Twombly – that a picture by this painter and a poem by this writer bear the same name: Birth of Venus. And these two works have the same “effect”: that of arising from the sea. This convergence, which is here exemplary, perhaps gives us the key to the “Twombly effect”. It seems to me that this effect, which is constant in all of Twombly’s paintings, even those which were painted prior to his settling in Italy (as Val雛y also said, it sometimes happens that the future is the cause of the past), is the very general effect which can be released, in all its possible dimensions, by the word “Mediterranean.” The Mediterranean is an enormous complex of memories and sensations: certain languages (Greek and Latin) which are present in Twombly’s titles, a historical, mythological, poetic culture, this whole life of forms, colors and light which occurs at the frontier of the terrestrial landscape and the plains of the sea. The inimitable art of Twombly consists in having imposed the Mediterranean effect while starting from materials (straches, smudges, smears, little color, no academic forms) which have no analogy with the great Mediterranean radiance.

I know the island of Procida, in the Bay of Naples, where Twombly has lived. I have spent a few days in the ancient house where Graziella, Lamartine’s heroine, spent her days. There, calmly united, are the light, the sky, the earth, the accent of a rock, an arch. It is Virgil and it is a Twombly paintings: there is none, in fact, where we don’t find this void of the sky, of water, and those very light marks indicating the earth (a boat, a promontory) which float in them (apparent rari nantes): the blue of the sky, the gray of the sea, the pink of sunrise.

IV

What happens in a painting by Twombly? A kind of Mediterranean effect. This effect, however, is not “frozen” in the pomp, the seriousness, the decorum of humanist works (even poems as intelligently conceived as those of Val雛y remain imprisioned in a kind of superior modesty). Often, Twombly introduces into the event a surprise (apodeston). This surprise takes the appearance of incongruity, derision, deflation, as if the humanistic turgescence was suddently pricked. In the Ode to Psyche (a drawing), a discreet tape measure, in a corner, “breaks” the solemnity of the title, a noble title if ever there was one. In Olympia, there are here and there motifs which are “clumsily” sketched, resembling those produced by children when they want to draw butterflies. From the point of view of “style”, an elevated value which has earned the respect of all the classical writers, what is more remote from the Veil of Orpheus than these few lines worthy of an apprentice surveyor? In Untitled (1969), what a beautiful gray! Two thin white lines are suspended askew (this is still the Rarus, the Japanese Ma); this could be very Zen-like; but two arithmetical figures, hardly legible, are wavering above the two and connect the nobility of this gray to the faint derision of being the support of a computation.

Unless… it is not precisely through such surprises that Twombly’s pictures don’t recover the spirit of purest Zen. For there exists, in the Zen attitude, a certain experience, which is not sought through a rational method, and which is very important: the satori. This word is very imperfectly translated (because of our Christian tradition) as “illumination”; sometimes, a little better, as “awakening.” It is probably, as far as laymen like us imagine, a kind of mental jolt which allows one to gain access, beyond all the known intellectual ways to the Buddhist “truth”, a vacant truth, unconnected with all kinds of form or causality. What matters for us is that the Zen satori is sought through starling techniques: not only irrational, but also and above all incrongruous, running counter to the seriousness with which we consider religious experience. They can consist of a nonsensical answer given to some elevated metaphysical question, or of a suprising gesture, which jars with the solemnity of a ritual (as in the case of the Zen preacher who, in the middle of a semon, stopped, took off his sandal, put it on his head and left the room). Such incongruities, which essentially lack respect, have a chance of unsettling the dogmatic seriousness which often lends a mask to the clear conscience presiding over our mental habits. From a non-religious point of view (obviously), some paintings by Twombly contain such impertinences, such shocks, such minute satori.

We must count as such surprises all the interventions of writing in the field of the canvas: any time Twombly uses a graphic sign, there is a jolt, an unsettling of the naturalness of painting. Such interventions are of three kinds (as we shall say for simplicity’s sake). First there are the marks of measurement, the figures, the tiny algorithms, all the things which produce a contradiction between the sovereign uselessness of painting and the utilitarian signs of computing. Then there are paintings where the only event is a handwritten word. Finally there is, occurring in both types of intervention, the constant “clumsiness” of the hand. The letter, in Twombly, is the very opposite of an ornamental or printed letter; it is drawn, it seems, without care and yet, it is not really childlike for the child trics diligently, presses hard on the paper, rounds off the corners, puts out his tongue in his efforts. He works hard in order to catch up with the code of adults, and Twombly gets away from it; he spaces things out, he lets them trail behind; it looks as if his hand was levitating, the word looks as if it had been written with the fingertips, not out of disgust or boredom, but in virtue of a fancy which disappoints what is expected from the “fine hand” of a painter: this phrase was used, in the seventeenth century, about the copyist who had a fine handwriting. And who could write better than a painter?

This “clumsiness” of the wirting (which is, however, inimitable: try to imitate it) certainly has a plastic function in Twombly. But here, where we don’t speak about him in the language of art criticism, we shall stress its critical function. By means of his use of written elements, Twombly almost always introduces a contradiction in his paintings “sparseness,” “clumsiness,” “awkwardness,” added to “rareness,” act as forces which quash the tendency; which one finds in classical culture, to turn antiquity into a depository of decorative forms; the Apollonian purity of the reference to Greece, which is felt in the luminosity of the painting, the dawnlike peace of its spaciousness, are “shaken” (since this is the word used about satori) by the repulsive use of written elements. It is as if the painting was conducting a fight against culture, of which it jettisons the magniloquent discourse and retains only the beauty. It has been said that unlike the art of Paul Klee, that of Twombly contains no aggresion. This is true if we conceive aggression in the Western way, as the excited expression of a constrained body which explodes. Twombly’s art is an art of the jolt more than an art of violence, and it often happens that a jolt is more subversive than violence: such, precisely, is the lesson of some Eastern modes of behavior and thought.

V

Drama, in Greek, is etymologically linked to the idea of “doing.” Drama denotes at the same time what is being done and what is being performed (with something at stake) on the canvas: a “drama,” yes, why not? For myself, I see in Twombly’s work two actions, or an action in two stages.

The first type of action consists in a kind of representation of culture. What happens is stories, and, as we saw, stories from classical culture: five days of Bacchanalia, the birth of Venus, the Ides of March, three dialogues of Plato, a battle, etc. These historical actions are not depicted; they are evoked through the power of the Name. What is represented, in fact, is culture itself, or, as we now say, the inter-text, which is this circulation of earlier (or contemporary) texts in the head (or the hand) of the artist. This representation is quite explicit when Twombly takes existing works (works which are recognized as supreme examples of culture) and places them “en abyme”, that is, as the symbolic core in some of his paintings; first, in some titles (The School of Athens, by Rafael), then in some silhouettes, difficult to recognize, moreover, which he puts in a corner like images important as references, and not in virtue of their content (the reference being Leonardo or Poussin). In classical painting, “what is happening” is the “subject” of the painting, a subject which is often anecdotal (Judith slaying Holophernes); but in Twombly’s paintings, the “subject” is a concept: it is the classical text “in itself” – a strange concept, it is true, since it is an object of desire, of love, and perhaps of nostalgia.

There is in French a useful lexical ambiguity: the “subject” of a work is sometimes its “object” (what it is talking about, the topic it ofters to our reflections, the quaestio of ancient rhetoric), sometimes the human being who is on the stage, who figures in it as the implicit author of what is said (or painted). In Twombly, the “subject” is of course what the painting is talking about; but as this subject-object is only a written allusion, the whole weight of the drama falls back again on the person who is producing it: the subject is Twombly himself. This circuit of the “subject” does not stop there, however: because Twombly’s art seems to include little technical know-how (this is of course only an appearance), the “subject” of the painting is also the person who is looking at it: you and me. The “simplicity” of Twombly (what I have analyzed under the name of “Rareness” or “Clumsiness”) calls, atracts the spectator: he wants to be reunited to the picture, not to consume it aesthetically, but to produce it in his turn (to “re-produce” it), to try his hand at a technique whose indigence and clumsiness give him an incredible (and quite misleading) illusion of being easy.

It should be made clear that the subjects who look at the painting are varied, and that the type of discourse which they have (inwardly) before the object they look at depends on which type of subject they are (a “subject” – and this is what modernity has taught us – is never constituted by anything but his language). Naturally, all these subjects can talk (so to speak) at the same time before a picture by Twombly (incidentally, aesthetics as a discipline could be that science which studies not the work in itself but the work as the spectator or the reader makes it talk within himself; a typology of discourses, so to speak). There are therefore several subjects who are looking at Twombly (and softly speak to him, each one in his head).

There is the subject of culture, who knows how Venus was born, who Poussin or Val雛y are; this subject is talkative, he can talk fluently. There is the subject of specialization, who knows the history of painting well and can lecture on Twombly’s place in it. There is the subject of pleasure, who rejoices in front of the painting, experiences a kind of jubilation while he discovers it, and cannot quite express it. This subject is therefore mute; he can only exclaim: “How beautiful this is!” and say it again. This is one of the small tortures of language: one can never explain why one finds something beautiful; pleasure generates a kind of laziness of speech, and if we want to speak about a work, we have to substitute for the expression of enjoyment discourses which are indirect, more rational – hoping that the reader will feel in them the happiness given by the paintings of which we speak. There is a fourth subject, that of memory. In a Twombly picture a certain touch of color at first appears to me hurried, botched, inconsistent: I don’t understand it. But this touch of color works in me, unknown to myself; after I have left the painting, it comes back, becomes a memory, and a tenacious one: everything has changed, the picture makes me happy retrospectively. In fact, what I consume with pleasure is absence: a statement which is not paradoxical if we remember that Mallarm?has made it the very principle of poetry: “I say: a flower, and musically arises the idea itself, fragance which is absent from all bouquets.”

The fifth subject is that of production, who feels like reproducing the picture. Thus this morning of December 31, 1978, it is still dark, it is raining, all is silent when I sit down at my worktable. I look at Herodiade (1960) and I have really nothing to say about it except the same platitude: that I like it. But suddently there arises something new, a desire: that of doing the same thing; of going to another worktable (no longer that for writing), to choose colors, to paint and draw. In fact, the question of painting is: “Do you feel like imitating Twombly?”

As the subject of production, the spectator of the painting is then going to explore his own impotence – and at the same time, as it were in relief, the power of the artist. Even before having drawn anything, I realize that I shall never be able to reproduce this background (or what gives me the illusion of a background): I don’t even know how it’s done. Here is Age of Alexander: oh, this single splash of pink…! I could never make it so light, or rarely so much the space that surrounds it. I could not stop filling in, going on, in other words spoiling all; and my own mistake mades me grasp what wisdom is in the actions of the artist. He prevents himself from wanting too much; he succeds in a way which is not unrelated to the erotic art of the Tao: intense pleasure comes from restraint. I find the same problem in View (1959) I could never bandle the pencil, that is, use it sometimes heavily and sometimes lightly, and I could never even learn it because this art is guided by no analogical principle, and because the ductus itself (this movement according to which the medieval copyist drew stroke of the letter in a direction which was always the same) is here absolutely free. And what is beyond reach at the level of the stroke is even more inaccessible at the level of the surface. In Panorama (1955), the whole space is crackling in the manner of a television screen before any image appears on it; now I would not know how to obtain the irregularity of the graphic distribution; for if I strove to produce a disorderly effect, I would only produce a stupid disorder. And from this I understand that Twombly’s art is an incessant victory over the stupidity of strokes: to draw an intelligent stroke: here, in the last analysis, is what makes the painter different. And in many other paitings, what I would stubbornly fail to obtain is the impression of “jet?” the decentering of the marks: no stroke seems endowed with an intentional direction, and yet the whole is mysteriously oriented.

I shall come back, finally, to this notion of “Rarus” (“scattered”), which I consider the key to Twombly’s art (1). This art is paradoxical, and would even be provocative (if it was not so delicate) because conciseness in it is not solemn. Generally, what is succint appears compact: sparseness begets density, and density gives birth to enigmas. In Twombly, another development occurs: to be sure, there is a silence, or, more accurately, a very faint sizzling of the surface. But this ground is itself a positive power; reversing the usual relationship in classical technique, one might say that strokes, hatching, forms, in short the graphic events, are what allow the sheet of paper or the canvas to exist, to signify, to be possessed of pleasure (“Being,” says the Tao, “gives possibilities, it is through non-being that one makes use of them”). Space, when thus treated, is no longer subject to number, while still being plural: is it not according to this opposition, which is hardly conceivable since it excludes at once number and unity, dispersion and centeredness, that we must interpret Webern’s dedication to Alban Berg: “Non multa, sed multum”?

There are paintings which are excited, possessive, dogmatic; they impose a product, they turn it into a tyrannical fetish. Twombly’s art- and in this consist its ethic and its great historical singularity-does not grasp at anything; it is situated, it floats and drifts between the desire which, in subtle fashion, guides the hand, and politeness, which is the discreet refusal of any captivating ambition. If we wished to locate this ethic, we would have to seek very far, outside painting, outside the West, outside history, at the very limit of meaning, and say, with the Tao Te King:

He produces without appropriating anything,
He acts without expecting anything,
His work accomplished, he does not get attached to it,
And since he is not attached to it,
His work will remain.”

The Wisdom of Art is via 梦宾馆

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Jul 11, 2014

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Jul 9, 2014

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B, 2014 – Math Bass

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Jun 28, 2014

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Yvonne Rainer: Dance Works
11 July to 10 August 2014

at Raven Row, London

A highlight of the exhibition is a 45-minute dance programme performed four times daily. Dancers trained for the occasion by Rainer and her long-time collaborator Pat Catterson will perform her celebrated works Trio A (1966) and Chair Pillow (1969), as well as the UK premieres of the very rarely seen Talking Soloand Diagonal (both 1963).

via Mary

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